One Health at Mpala

“About 75% of emerging infectious diseases come from wildlife first and then spill over and amplify within the human population.”
-Dr. Suzan Murray, Director, Smithsonian Global Health Program

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Global Health Program is based on the One Health platform, which recognizes that the health of the environment, humans, and animals, both wild and domestic, are inextricably linked. Working in Kenya for over 20 years, the program has embraced a multidisciplinary approach to investigating problems and solutions associated with this reality, bringing together students, post-doctoral fellows, and research scientists from all over the world.

The Global Health Program seeks to better understand how health outcomes emerge in two of Africa’s ecosystems undergoing rapid change—grasslands and large cities. The program currently encompasses more than 14 active projects, spanning conservation medicine, epidemiology, disease ecology, movement ecology, and molecular biology. Among other top priorities, the team aims to train Africa’s public health workforce while recognizing the critical importance of empowering Kenyan professionals to lead such efforts. Between 2015 and 2020, the program trained over 400 students and professionals on infectious disease and global health, providing practical training in subfields such as biosurveillance and biosecurity.

The Global Health Program is currently working to support the Africa One Health University Network (AFROHUN) by delivering hands-on experiential learning and classroom-based teaching on One Health topics to university faculty and students across Kenya. Drawing on the Smithsonian’s existing projects in Laikipia, Drs. Joseph Kamau and Mike Von Fricken recently hosted AFROHUN’s One Health Workforce Next Generation training at the Mpala Research Centre.

One Health continues to expand. The first state-of-the art wildlife endocrinology laboratory in East Africa was established at the Mpala Research Centre in 2019. The laboratory was created through a training partnership between the Kenya Wildlife Service, OI Jogi Wildlife Conservancy, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Mpala.

Current research at the endocrinology laboratory has yielded preliminary data from non-invasive endocrine monitoring of female eastern black rhinoceros, as detailed in the 2021 publication “Establishing East Africa’s first endocrinology laboratory to aid in wildlife conservation.” The results are encouraging and indicative of the laboratory’s potential to guide conservation management strategies through the One Health approach. “Future application of endocrine technology,” the authors write, “will involve studies on additional priority wildlife species in Kenya, such as identifying the impact of human disturbance on elephant populations, risk factors associated with skin disease in giraffes, understanding the basic biology of critically endangered free ranging hirola and mountain bongo, and understanding acute and chronic physiological responses to immobilization and translocation of wildlife.”  

In 2023, students from across Kenya’s university network will be joining experts to get hands-on experience in the field. The Global Health team will also be working to build a virtual One Health Learning Platform, with the support of its collaborators at Mpala.

Maureen and Nikki in the Endocrinology Lab

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